BY Mirudhula Thambiah
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian and Spokesman, Suresh Premachandran said it is a must for a presidential candidate to address important issues of the Tamils of North and East. Such a candidate must assure demilitarization in the North, resettlement and other burning issues to address the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka.
He added that TNA is for a united Sri Lanka and not for separatism. He said the ethnic problem could be solved within a united Sri Lanka and the TNA was not for a unitary Constitution.”
Q: What are your plans in the upcoming Presidential Election? What are your demands?
A: Tamils of the North and East are having different issues. There are common matters, both communities want to abolish the Executive Presidency and establish democracy in this country to end the family rule.
At the same time, Tamils of the North and East has to be resettled in their own lands. Those lands are now occupied by the security forces. Thousands of people are still languishing in other places. They are living in welfare camps and houses of relatives and friends. There are political prisoners for the last 10 -15 years without any proper legal action.
There is no proper political solution to the ethnic problem. Nearly 20,000 people have given submissions to the Missing Persons Commission formed by the government. Most of these problems are special issues which the Sinhala Community rarely faces. Therefore, we would like to see whether the forthcoming candidates in the election are prepared to address these issues.
Have your party decided on whom to support in the Presidential Election?
A: No! So far we have not decided. We would like to examine all candidates. It will not only be from the UNP and SLFP, there may be other candidates too. We would like to consider their manifestos.
However, to date we are not happy with both parties, the ruling party said there is no necessity to talk to the TNA and the Opposition said they are totally against the federal system.
We still have time. We will see whether these candidates are willing to address our issues. Based on their move we will decide on whom to support.
Did TNA leader Sampanthan have any discussions with former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge regarding elections?
A: There may be rumours but so far there were no discussions on elections. If discussions are to be held it will represent all TNA leaders.
Have you received any invitation from the side of the common candidate and the other parties to have any sort of discussion?
A: We are not in a hurry! Hopefully we will meet them, but I don’t know when.
Do you think the mandate of the common candidate can fulfil the aspirations of the people of the North and East?
A: We don’t have any faith on any of these candidates. They don’t want to say that they will resolve the ethnic problem. Everyone says that they will not give federalism. They are only trying to appease Sinhala voters. They don’t want to give any assurance to the minorities. They don’t want to say anything about resettlement and demilitarization. If they assure they will lose the Sinhala votes.
The common candidate will only be an interim president. In such a situation do you feel complete power sharing will be exercised in the North and East under the 13th Amendment, if he comes to power?
A: If they are going to have amendments to the Constitution, the 13th Amendment can be further amended. They say 17th Amendment will be brought back, by abolishing the Executive Presidency. These can be done only by amending the Constitution. If they can do those changes in the Constitution, why not other changes in order to solve the ethnic problem?
It may be about the land, police and financial powers. They can certainly consider on how to further amend the 13th Amendment.
President Rajapaksa told the International Community, he will go beyond the 13th Amendment. Therefore, if they want to change the Constitution, they can further think of amending the 13th Amendment too.
There were rumours that your party will support the common candidate based on a Rs 1,000 million deal and that Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge has assured to give 13 plus. Is that true? What is your justification?
A: There is another deal that the government is willing to give Rs 500 crores to the TNA to pledge our support. These are rumours created by media and politicians, which is all rubbish. We the Tamil people want to resolve this problem in a genuine manner.
We want to lead this country in a dignified manner. We want to have equal share in all aspects. We are not demanding money from any person.
Sobhitha Thera has said that support of the Tamils is very important to abolish Executive Presidency. What is TNA’s stand?
A: Tamils are citizens of this country. Participation of Tamils is necessary to abolish the Executive Presidency. Not only Sobhitha Thera , various other politicians also said that votes of Tamils are very necessary. In such a situation if any candidate is actually interested in abolishing the Executive Presidency and who is also interested in the development of Sri Lanka will definitely come forward to have a proper dialogue with the Tamil representatives.
TNA had discussions with Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). Was it a political discussion?
A: There was a discussion to see how best we can work politically together. It was a very preliminary meeting and issues in the East, as well as the North were prioritized. We have an understanding to continue the dialogue.
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) is supporting the common candidate, if TNA also decides to support the common candidate there would be an imbalance since the JHU is against the 13th Amendment. In such a situation do you think it is practical to stay on the same stage?
A: We understand the situation, it is very difficult. There are some commonalities like abolishing the Executive Presidency. We know that JHU is against the issues of the people of the North and East. They don’t want to even allow the 13th Amendment.
However, all these will be taken up among the four-party alliance in TNA. Therefore, we will discuss and reach a suitable conclusion.
What is the right India has to interfere in internal politics?
A: I’m not saying that India has any right to interfere in internal politics. But it is very clear, there is the Indo-Lanka Accord signed by the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Sri Lankan President J.R.Jayewardene. If any issue relating to Indo-Lanka Accord occurs, they have all the right to interfere.
If they have the right to interfere, why did India remain silent when the North and East was divided?
A: That is also our concern. We informed the Government of India. Earlier, it was promised by the Sri Lankan President, the North and East will not be divided. But it was later divided through a Court Order. I don’t think India is happy about it.
Not only that, they have exchanged letters about the security of India in future, and any foreign vessels should not be brought to the Sri Lankan waters which will be harmful to the Indian security. But the Sri Lankan Government simply ignored the claims of India.
I think there are several other issues than the demerging of North and East, going out of the Indo-Lanka Accord. In such a situation as a signatory India may talk to the Sri Lankan Government and Opposition regarding the issue.
We understand there are rifts in your party in the past as well as now, during the Presidential Election. As some of your party members want to support the common candidate and some don’t want to. What exactly is the problem?
A: There are different views within a family. TNA is not a single party, it is a four-party alliance. Definitely there may be contradictions and differences. But it does not mean there is a rift. There are various views we will discuss and we will reach suitable solutions. That is our issue; I don’t think anybody else has to worry about it. We know very well to sort these things on our own.
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake has recently spoken about the rights of Tamils and their difficulties. Do you think your party has any chances to have an understanding with them?
A: We are prepared to discuss with anyone. We want to resolve the problem so we are prepared to discuss with all.
After the war, JVP very clearly said the Northern Province is completely militarized and the people are under their rule. They have addressed this matter in Parliament too.
Yet it doesn’t mean they are supporting proper power sharing arrangements. They are against power sharing; they have said it is not necessary. As a Marxist party they may have their own views on this issue. I don’t think their views can be implemented at any point; therefore, there is a difficult part with their views too.
But at least the Tamils fight for an autonomous region in the North and East. They want an equal devolution of power. In that matter I don’t think the JVP is in terms with the TNA.
If Maithripala Sirisena becomes the President do you think the people of the North and East will be able to exercise exact land and police powers?
A: We have several times emphasized the needs of the Tamil people. Tamil people at one point fought for a separate State. Several thousand lives were sacrificed. But now TNA very clearly said that we are prepared to solve our political problem within a united Sri Lanka. They must be in a position to address our claims. If they cannot give land or financial powers, this struggle will continue. If any government wants political stability in this country, then it is a must to resolve the problems of Tamils.
They should consider at how power sharing should be divided equally, at the provincial and at the centre.
How does TNA define diaspora? What kind of support have you received from them?
A: There are more than 1 million Sri Lankan Tamil populations living abroad. They live in Europe, US and Australia. They are the kith and kin of Sri Lankan Tamils. Therefore, they are people belonging to this country even though they live abroad. They want to help their own people here and without the diaspora people of the North and East cannot be in today’s situation.
The diaspora is supporting the war affected widows, orphans and all the others. The government has failed to fulfil the needs of these people. The diaspora is taking various measures to look after the affected.
: TNA has continuously stressed out about the UN war crimes investigations. Why do you consider that the investigation as the most important?
A: We don’t want to punish anyone in person. It is a matter of finding out the truth of what happened and an implementation of a proper resolution.
Therefore, we consider the investigations as the most important. There will be a report released in March 2015. It will create proper understanding among the local communities and international community on the exact situation in Sri Lanka.
Is TNA asking for unitary or unified State?
A: We are not for a unitary but a united Sri Lanka. If a united Sri Lanka is not possible, the Sri Lankan Government may have to face the consequences.
The TNA leader said the ethnic problem can be solved within a united Sri Lanka and we are not for a unitary Constitution. Those things should be amended. If not the struggle will continue and there will be a logical end to the struggle.